MELBOURNE Storm last night returned to its relentless best against a South Sydney side that was simply outclassed in the NRL's second qualifying final. Craig Bellamy's men ran in four tries to one and handed their well-fancied rivals a 24-6 beating in a performance that will surely catapult them into premiership favouritism given the two-week rest and home preliminary final.
Souths, making their first finals appearance since 2007, were really only in this game for as long as it took the Storm to open the scoring - and that was early in the first half, after they had weathered an early offensive from the visitors.
After that it was one-way traffic and Souths did not even get on the scoreboard until Eddy Pettybourne spared the Rabbitohs' blushes with a try seven minutes from time.
Ryan Hoffman's toughness and never-say-die attitude epitomised Storm's desperation when he recovered from an early knock-out to put his side in front in the seventh minute.
After a sickening collision in the opening exchanges Hoffman stumbled as he got up, then slipped and slid desperately trying to tackle anything that resembled a green-and-red jersey.
But shortly afterwards he had recovered sufficiently to pop up in a crucial position to break the deadlock following a moment of Billy Slater magic.
The Storm full-back picked up the ball deep in defence and burst through the Rabbitohs' broken lines, advancing first forward and then across field before offloading to Dane Nielsen. Hoffman, no longer seeing stars in his eyes, was running in support and went over. His captain Cameron Smith then made the conversion.
The Storm stretched the advantage to eight points in the 13th minute when Smith kicked true from a penalty.
Greg Inglis, for so long a favourite of the fans in purple, is now the poster boy for the Rabbitohs, but there was little in the way of threat from the superstar in the opening period. In fact, one of his best moments came when he intervened to deny Storm's home-grown new boy Mahe Fonua his debut NRL try as Storm piled on the pressure.
It paid dividends for the Storm in the 23rd minute when Slater went over and, after a delay for the video referee, the all clear was given for another try. Smith's kick stretched the lead to 14 points but worse was to come for the Rabbitohs in the shadows of half-time, as Fonua got that first try after some good approach work by Storm's English five-eighth, Gareth Widdop.
The improbable became the impossible for the Rabbitohs shortly after the interval with Widdop once more feeding the winger, this time Fonua's counterpart Sisa Waqa, in space on the right. Smith's conversion made it 24-0.
Souths enjoyed their best period of possession and territory as they tried to put some semblance of respectability on the scoreboard and with 25 minutes to go they looked set to get some reward when Andrew Everingham broke through in the corner. But Widdop got across to take the Rabbitohs winger out of play.
It was an uncompromising show of resilience and will with commitment to defence. The game was marred only by the report of Kevin Proctor after he lifted Sam Burgess in a tackle.